dan's sister sarah taught me all that i know about caramel apples a few years ago on a family trip to sun valley. i finally had the courage to try them on my own, after a little refresher course from her a few weeks ago. you'll find her amazing homemade caramel recipe below. (after researching online, i found a few expert tips too, which i've included. please comment with your own if you have additional techniques!) i am posting this tutorial mainly to remember all of the steps and to readily admit that dipping apples is not as frightening as i once thought it to be. i hope you'll try them if you haven't already! i definitely want to make this a tradition (and improve my skills) each year. here we go!
we agree that green apples taste the best with the sweet toppings. i bought giant packs from costco. these were organic which means i didn't have to scrub so hard to get any shiny coating off of the apples. you want the apples completely cleaned off. sarah even uses a tiny drop of dishwashing soap to get the skins nice and clean. i read online that apple dipping experts use a bit of fine sandpaper (yes, real sandpaper!) on the apple skins before washing them to ensure a nice caramel coating.
dry and polish the apples until they gleam. they need to be very dry. any moisture will deter the caramel from sticking. all of this prep work is somewhat tedious (especially when you are working with forty-two apples!), but like i learned while painting the rooms in my house, prep work is oh so important for a job well done. no skimping! and whistle while you work!
stick the apples in the fridge overnight or at least for several hours. cold apples are best!
optional: gather all the stuff you'll need and head to a friend's house for the caramel making. it's much more fun doing something this messy and marvelous with a friend (bonus if her kitchen is big and fabulous too)! plus, her kids will entertain yours while you work. (see benji wearing star wars storm trooper costume below. he was in heaven!)
have one friend plant wooden sticks into each apple while the other starts the caramel in a heavy duty pot. i was too busy stirring and feeding and holding the baby to take pictures of the caramel bubbling (boy does it smell incredible). mainly you need to keep stirring it so it won't burn to the bottom of your pan. my candy thermometer was not behaving so we totally guessed on the firm ball stage. i dropped it in a cup of ice and didn't know what to look for, but it seemed good to me. for two newbies, we did pretty well! p.s. be sure to line your cookie sheets with parchment paper, not waxed paper! caramel will stick to wax paper. eek. experts pour the hot caramel into a clean metal bowl to allow it to slightly cool before dipping. obviously we skipped this step and just started dipping straight from the pan because we're
adventurous impatient like that. luckily, it still worked like a dream. set the caramel apples in the fridge while you melt the chocolate.
now the really fun part. dipping and sprinkling! we had our assistant (my friend's super helpful and eager eight year old son) prep all of our toppings into separate bowls while we melted the chocolate. he even creatively concocted one bowl with all of the toppings mixed together for a 'suicide' type apple (always good to have options). you'll want the toppings ready to go before melting chocolate.
you can melt white chocolate in a double boiler, a pretend double boiler (does anyone really own a real double boiler?!) or in small increments in the microwave. whatever works. again, we threw caution to the wind and just started dipping after melting in the microwave. (hers had a special 'melt' button! if your microwave does too, you should be melting on a regular basis. you have no excuse. i am unbelievably jealous.)
some toppings to try: sea salt on plain caramel, crushed oreos, seasonal sprinkles, brown sugar & cinnamon, reeses pieces, candy corn, heath toffee, mini chocolate chips and then some. we had trouble with the heavier toppings sticking well; they just drooped down the chocolate. but the kids were happy to take those apples off our hands. i love the look of dark or milk chocolate dripping down the sides in a pretty drizzle design, but i ran out of energy for that final step. definitely will do it next time (you know, when seth is a year older and toddling around and pulling everything out of the cupboards and putting everything into his mouth. funny when you imagine things will be easier next time around...)
allow apples to set up in the fridge. wrap them up with cellophane, ribbon and tags. because everything is pretty with cellophane, ribbon and a tag! devour the apples or give them as gifts within 48 hours.
here is the recipe scanned in from my cookbook scrapbook. click and print out for yourself! enjoy!